Michael Thomas Injury Update: When will New Orleans Saints' star return to action?

The New Orleans Saints return to national television Monday night with a primetime preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That will give head coach Sean Payton another, and possibly final, data point as he decides whether to start Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill in the Saints’ Week 1 game against the Green Bay Packers. Star receiver Michael Thomas won’t be available to open the season with his ankle injury, adding further difficulty to the decision.

Michael Thomas’ injury means Saints’ offense is incomplete

Whatever happens Monday evening, Payton’s evaluation will be incomplete. He still does not have a great feel of how the post-Drew Brees offense will look with Thomas on the field. That’s because Thomas hasn’t practiced in over seven months due to an ankle injury that the three-time Pro Bowler has completely mismanaged.

Thomas is out until October due to an injury he suffered 11 months ago. It didn’t have to be that way — and the club is unhappy with the handling of the situation.

The 28-year-old receiver, who has nearly 6,000 receiving yards and more than 30 touchdowns in five NFL seasons, missed more than half of the 2020 campaign due to the nagging issue plus club disciplinary action.

The Saints were happy to have Thomas play through it last fall. Nonetheless, they wanted him to get the ankle fixed in January. He refused, but when it became clear he needed to get the damaged ligament repaired, it was far too late in the calendar to have him ready for the start of the regular season.

When did Michael Thomas’ injury occur?

ESPN reported the injury — which included a torn deltoid and other ligament damage — occurred in Week 1 of the season. Still, Thomas elected to play through it in an attempt to win a championship in Brees’ final season.

During his in-season rehab of that injury, Thomas got into a practice-field fight with teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, leading to a one-game suspension and a fine.

That ultimately blew over, however, and Thomas did return for the Saints’ two playoff games.

After New Orleans’ season ended with a Divisional Round loss to the Buccaneers, the Saints expected Thomas to get the injury fixed. Instead, he sought a second opinion and convinced himself the injury would heal with rehab. Thomas was not only wrong, but he reportedly went radio silent for much of the offseason.

Injury sets Saints’ offense back

When Thomas reported for June minicamps, the team learned the truth. He needed surgery and would be unavailable for up to four months.

“It’s disappointing,” Payton said early in training camp. “We would have liked it to have happened earlier rather than later. And quite honestly, it should have.”

Thomas seemed to fire back with a cryptic tweet that read, “They tried to damage your reputation. You saved theirs by not telling your side of the story.” And then, a few days later, he tweeted, “Ain’t making no threats, just making a list.”

He’ll probably be disappointed if that list is of teams he would like to be traded to. Things have mostly quieted down since, and there’s been little indication that New Orleans is actively shopping him.

Thomas attended the Saints’ preseason opener against the Ravens. According to the Times-Picayune, he looks to be ahead of schedule in his rehab.

With Thomas out, the Saints’ wide receiving corps is clearly diminished. Marquez Callaway (21 career catches for 231 yards) and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (3 for 46) started New Orleans’ preseason opener. Tre’Quan Smith, who has 80 career catches for 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns, is the Saints’ most accomplished healthy receiver. The expectation is he will be a big part of the team’s early-season rotation.

Adam Beasley is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.